In his first season as the Redskins' defensive coordinator, Joe Barry has plenty of leadership from both offseason acquisitions and key returning players.
The Washington Redskins, thanks to a combination of incumbent defenders and offseason acquisitions, have a defense brimming with veteran leadership in 2015.
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said having that "veteran core good leadership" was key when evaluating the roster early in the offseason, and he liked what he saw throughout the offseason program.
"We've brought some guys in that can help with that," he said. "We've got some guys in-house that are good leaders. It's a good group and I'm impressed with all of them."
The Redskins' free agency class this offseason included headliners like defensive linemen Stephen Paea and Ricky Jean Francois, cornerback Chris Culliver, nose tackle Terrance Knighton and safety Jeron Johnson. The team also traded to acquire Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson.
"I think the No. 1 thing, again back to [General Manager] Scot [McCloughan] and his scouting staff, is we've not only brought in good football players, we've brought in good guys, good character guys," first-year defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. "I think that's important when you bring guys into the locker room. You want good football players, but you want good people and we've done that. The character on this team is outstanding."
Additionally, Gruden said it is important that new acquisitions buy into the new defensive scheme Barry is installing and show their support.
"It's a new system for everybody right now," Gruden said. "You want some guys that come in here that are good leaders that love football. The guys that we did bring in are very good competitors. They mix in well with the guys that we already got. There is great competition at every position right now."
The Redskins could potentially see five 2015 free agent signings starting in Week 1. One of them, Knighton, signed with the Redskins as an unrestricted free agent to clog the line of scrimmage and engage multiple blockers. After playing with esteemed veterans in Denver including Peyton Manning, Champ Bailey and DeMarcus Ware, Knighton believes he is also in a situation to "pass on my knowledge" to younger players.
"I'm here for my leadership and to dominate at the line of scrimmage," Knighton said.
The veterans the Redskins have brought in not only have playing experience but also success in the NFL. Knighton, along with Johnson, Goldson, Culliver and Jean Francois, all have played in the Super Bowl. Johnson is the only one of the six to have won the game, taking Super Bowl XLVIII while with Seattle. He was also on the Seahawks team that lost to New England this year in Super Bowl XLIX.
Check out images of veteran safety Jeron Johnson during his first few months as a Washington Redskin.
The former "Legion of Boom" member now walks by three more Lombardi Trophies at Redskins Park, and wants to add another to the collection.
"Oh yeah, they definitely have those [Lombardi Trophies] on display as soon as you walk in the building," Johnson said. "You see those and you want to get more of them. That's what it's all about is winning that Lombardi Trophy, a Super Bowl."
The Redskins claimed safety Duke Ihenacho off waivers before the 2014 season but he missed most of the year with an injury. This season, he could be a valuable resource for younger players. He came into the NFL as an underdog and ended up starting in the Super Bowl for Denver at safety in his second pro season.
"I've started. I've played games. I've been in the Super Bowl. I have experience and I'm a competitor," Ihenacho said. "It's been like that. Nobody's given me anything. I was an undrafted free agent, and then on the practice squad and worked my way up to the starting position. I'm no stranger to it. It's kind of familiar territory."
The offseason acquisitions are expected to significantly improve a Redskins defense that also had its share of standout performers a season ago, despite the loss of veterans Brian Orakpo (signed with the Tennessee Titans) and Ryan Clark (retired).
Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan considers himself "the elder statesman in the room now" of a group of pass rushers that includes second-year Trent Murphy and rookie Preston Smith. Coming off a career-high 13.5 sacks in 2014, Kerrigan is looking to be a stabilizing figure outside the tackles, taking on a role similar to that of a "senior" in college.
Barry believes Kerrigan and other returning veterans such as Jason Hatcher, Keenan Robinson, Perry Riley Jr., Chris Baker and Kedric Golston will smooth out many of the bumps of an NFL season for the younger players and the team as a whole.
"There are going to be ups and downs in a season, and that's when you really need those character guys," Barry said. "That's when you need veteran leadership. I think at each group we really have great veteran leadership."
Another key leader, DeAngelo Hall, was limited this offseason by his recovery from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon, but has made his presence felt by his teammates, including rookie cornerbacks Tevin Mitchel and Tajh Hasson, while he targets a training camp return for himself.
"He's been in every single meeting for the last six weeks," Barry said during OTAs. "He's taking notes. He's a phenomenal leader. I've really, really been pleasantly surprised with D-Hall with that. He's really impressed me with his leadership role."
As opposed to making up for a lack of one, Gruden feels as though the Redskins were building upon a foundation of strong character. He cited perseverance throughout the 2014 season.
"I feel like the season that we had last year, as rocky as it was, I still feel like we did a good job of preparing," Gruden said. "The guys still came in here, focused, and tried their butts off to win. We beat Philly in Week … 16 at the end of year. It shows the guys were still committed to preparing."
And with training camp beginning this week, but Barry is eager to continue working with this personnel.
"That's what you want," Barry said. "You want great players, but you want great players with great character and we got that."